HMS Captain was a unique ship. Built in 1869 she was a masted turret ship with dual propulsion systems. Her design had been opposed by the Navy but she was built on the orders of Parliament.
She was built at Birkenhead but a number of substantial mistakes were made during her construction. By the time she was finished she was 750 tons heavier than originally planned. This combined with other design and construction elements meant that her centre of gravity had risen 10 inches. This was to play a major part in her demise.
She was commisioned in April 1870 and following sea trials was allocated to the channel fleet. On the 6th September off Cape Finistere a storm blew up. The ship began to roll in the gale force winds and eventually she capsized. 480 seamen including the captain were lost and only 18 survived.
The inquiry into the ships loss found that she had sunk due to the design and construction of the ship.
‘Before the Captain was received from her contractors a grave departure from her original design had been committed whereby her draught of water was increased about two feet and her freeboard was diminished to a corresponding extent, and that her stability proved to be dangerously small, combined with an area of sail, under those circumstances, excessive. The Court deeply regret that if these facts were duly known and appreciated, they were not communicated to the officer in command of the ship, or that, if otherwise, the ship was allowed to be employed in the ordinary service of the Fleet before they had been ascertained by calculation and experience.’
The Captain and Crew are remembered in two memorial plaques on the wall of St Paul’s Cathedral.